Saint Michael’s Medical Center marked the 150th anniversary of its founding Friday with a celebration that included a visit from Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, as well as a host of elected officials and civic leaders from throughout the community.
Tobin blessed the hospital, celebrated on the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, which is marked every year by the hospital. Saint Michael’s continues to observe Catholic traditions and is committed to the Ethical and Religious Directives that are an integral part of every Catholic hospital.
Established by the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in 1867 to serve Newark's poor immigrant population, Saint Michael's continues its innovation and expansion of services to serve the needs of a growing community.
The 357-bed teaching and research hospital, located in he heart of Newark's business and educational district, was the first in New Jersey to perform open-heart surgery, and the first to develop a cardiac catheterization program. It was also the first hospital to open an HIV testing center in the state and has tested and diagnosed thousands of cases of the disease since it was first discovered in the 1980s.
Just two years ago, the hospital faced a possible shutdown when-then owners, Trinity Health, filed for bankruptcy protection after a sale of the hospital to Prime Healthcare was delayed by the state. Elected officials religious leaders and residents rallied and signed petitions to save the hospital and its 1,400 jobs.
The state approved the sale in early 2016 and Prime Healthcare completed its $62 million purchase in May 2016.
Prime Healthcare, founded in 2001 by Dr. Prim Reddy, operates nearly four dozen hospitals across the United States and owns Saint Mary’s in Passaic and Saint Clare’s Healthcare in Morris County.
The hospital has already invested more than $21 million to upgrade the facility, including the installation of a new electronic records system, new monitoring devices and the latest cancer treatment equipment.
Last week, the emergency room opened a new Fast Track unit that will reduce the hospital’s shortest-in-the-region wait times even further.
Saint Michael’s CEO Robert Iannaccone noted the milestone and expressed confidence in the facility's future.
“When we came to this hospital on May 1, we came to a hospital with an extremely strong foundation,” he said. “We’ve built on that foundation. Since we acquired Saint Michael’s, its financial future is secure.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Claudia Komer looked back at Saint Michael’s history of quality care as a harbinger of good things to come.
“The history of Saint Michael’s is truly and extraordinary one,” Komer said, noting its humble beginnings in a small facility on Bleecker Street run by the sisters and two doctors—both Irish immigrants—who provided medical care. “A patient has never been turned away.”
As Newark faced a small pox epidemic in the late nineteenth century and was deemed the “unhealthiest city” in the state, the hospital became more critical than ever, establishing outpatient and surgical services, as well as a women’s hospital.
With the advent of two world wars—which resulted in mass drafts of hospital personnel—and later an influenza epidemic, the hospital continued to weather the storm and celebrated its Diamond Jubilee on Sept. 29, 1942.
In 1949, the first cardiac catheterization in the state was performed at the facility, and by 1950 Saint Michael’s was treating 13,000 in-hospital patients, as well as providing tens of thousands more with outpatient services.
Tobin called the celebration an historic milestone for the city.
“For 150 years, Saint Michael’s has stood as a beacon of hope for the city and beyond,” he said. “I think the first great accomplishment of this hospital is to see the sick and see them for who they are.”
Tobin noted HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, noting the medical center was the welcomed these patients with open arms.
“This hospital saw them not as statistics but as sisters and brothers,” Tobin said.
Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who led the charge on the City Council to save the hospital, said Saint Michael's is one of Newark's thriving institutions that has provided jobs to local residents.
“Saint Michael's is an economic engine in this city,” she said. “As Newark's Central Ward and business center continues to grow, all of these new residents will be looking for high quality health care. Fortunately, they will not have to go far because Saint Michael's is right in their backyard.”
East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador noted the closing of Saint James Hospital, which served the Ironbound neighborhood until it closed in 2008, and said he was thankful that Saint Michael’s could fill that void.
“To be involved in the fight to keep Saint Michael’s open was a pleasure,” he said.
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos said with the city’s growth comes the need for great healthcare.
“An institution like Saint Michael’s plays a critical role and I am proud to consider myself a friend and supporter,” he said.
State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, who said she was born at Saint Michael's, lauded the hospital for their benevolence and high-quality care.
“This hospital gives back to the entire State of New Jersey,” Ruiz said, noting that the state’s legislature has recognized the facility for its many years of exemplary service to the city.
The Rev. Ronald Slaughter, board chair at Saint Michael’s and pastor of Newark’s Saint James A.M.E Church, was among those who rallied the community to support the sale of Saint Michael’s to Prime. At the time, a state-commissioned report recommended the hospital be closed as an acute-care facility.
“Saint Michael’s has had an extraordinary history, but we are standing here today because we believe it has an incredible future,” Slaughter said. “One of the reasons that I was so passionate about saving Saint Michael's is the vital role it plays in our community. If Saint Michael's wasn't here, our community’s access to healthcare would be severely hampered. Saint Michael's survival was vital to the community."
Saint Michael’s, which is affiliated with New York Medical College, offers residencies in anesthesia, internal medicine and podiatry, as well as fellowships in cardiology, interventional cardiology, gastroenterology, oncology, infectious disease, pulmonary and critical care.
“Our medical education program has produced more than 1,000 graduates, many of whom remain in our community and many of whom have made extraordinary contributions in their fields of expertise,” Komer said. “This demonstrates the commitment of our medical staff and the culture of service at this hospital.”